Why military exercises with friendly nations have become a necessary tool in India’s defence diplomacy
It’s almost raining joint military exercises in India; the Indian Navy is participating in the MALABAR-21, between navies of Australia, Japan and the United States of America, while the Indian Army will carry out a 13-day mega military exercise with Russia from 1 August and another with Kazakh troops from 30 August 2021, to 11 September 2021.
So, why does India participate in these ‘games’ and what benefit does it provide?
What is a military exercise?
A military exercise or war game is a measure to test the performance of the armed forces without engaging in the battlefield.
It facilitates better coordination between the militaries, observation of enemy’s tactics, and familiarisation with new technologies, enabling on-the-job training of each other’s crews. These are useful in case of joint military operations be it in war or in operations other than war such as disaster relief, and humanitarian aid.
According to a 2021 study, joint military exercises between allies deter adversaries.
Perhaps, the most important advantage of joint military exercises is ‘strategic signalling’. A joint exercise with one or more nations serves the purpose of signalling to a third country of the influence we have in the region and a demonstration of our resolve to further our diplomatic objectives.
On the intangible side, military exercises promote brotherhood and camaraderie between soldiers and militaries. Besides goodwill, it is a tool for projection of a nation’s soft power.
India’s war games
The Indian Armed Forces carry out military exercises with different countries across the year.
These are some of the famous exercises that the armed forces participate in:
• Yudh Abhyas with the US
• Maitree Exercise with Thailand
• Shakti with France
• INDRA with Russia
• KAZIND with Kazakhstan
• DUSTLIK with Uzbekistan
• Malabar with Australia, India, Japan and US
• RIMPAC with Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Denmark, France, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Philippines, South Korea Singapore, Thailand, Tonga, the UK and US
• COBRA-GOLD with Asia-Pacific countries
In the recent past, the Malabar Naval games have gained significant media attention owing to the rise of Quad collective.
The exercise is seen as a reflection of increasing partnership among the four countries in the face of China’s increasing assertiveness. China has been suspicious about the purpose of the Malabar exercise as it feels that the annual war game is an effort to contain its influence in the Indo-Pacific region.
Similarly, the Yudh Abhyas, which began in 2004, is viewed as a step forward in the growing military to military cooperation between two countries, indicating steady growth in India-US relations.
Interestingly, India had carried out a major military exercise called ‘Hand-in-Hand’ with China in July 2019 in Meghalaya. Its main objective was to build and promote strong relations between the armies of India and China. Another objective was to develop joint operational capability, share useful experiences of counter-terrorism operations and foster friendly relations between India and China. However, as ties with China strained owing to the standoff in Ladakh, the 2020 edition of this exercise wasn’t held.
India has realised the potential of joint military exercises as part of military diplomacy. In the last decade or so, India has undertaken army joint exercises with 18 countries, naval exercises with 14 countries and air force exercises with eight countries.
The objectives for joint military exercises are different, it ranges from inter-operability to demonstration of capabilities, developing trust, comradery and familiarity between militaries.
The location of exercises in itself is an indication of deep engagement and trust with the partners. The naval exercises between India, Japan and the US in the Sea of Japan obviously is a signal directed to China.
These exercises also act as a platform to assess weapons, equipment and a display of technology that can be made available to allies.
Such exercises are also seen as an assurance that a critical supply of spares and accessories will be guaranteed during a possible conflict.
However, there is also a criticism against holding war games with one expert stating that they are of a simple basic variety which doesn’t provide any value addition to the Indian force.
Moreover, the joint exercises are periodical in nature while the crew and the platforms that participate are rarely the same. This brings in the aspect of continuity and its benefits. With a new crew every time, the earlier lessons have often got to be re-learnt from scratch.
There is still plenty of room for improvement for India in this area. The defence diplomacy of India is still not in complete sync with its foreign policy. It has not been used as a tool to fulfil our foreign policy objectives.
India needs to understand as once said by John F Kennedy, “Diplomacy and defence are not substitutes for one another, either alone would fail”. India needs to understand this philosophy as the present age of smart power. To be the major player in the world India will have to combine its hard power and soft power into effective strategies to achieve the best results.
With inputs from agencies